AL-ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- Marines from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment
, Regimental Combat Team 5 and Police Transition Team 4 teamed up Dec. 26 to help Iraqi Police from the Port of Waleed to form good relationships with their new neighbors in the town of Walej.
Over the past six months, nomadic shepherds and their families, destitute from drought and disease which ravaged their herds, were forced to move from the desert into the town of Walej.
Located in a remote region of western al-Anbar province near the Syrian border, Walej was an Iraqi Army compound prior to 2003. It is now home to about 28 former Bedouin families, but no census has been conducted there to date, according to Iraqi Col. Faris Jabir Malik, the Waleed Police Station chief.
With more than 24 years on the force, Faris knows the Waleed people well. A fluent English speaker with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, he is an ideal working partner for Coalition Forces.
“These poor people used to be shepherds, but now they have nothing. They need not only food and clothing, but also education,” said Malik. “This is a very good thing we are doing as a start, to bring them clothes and food for the winter.”
This was the first time that Malik and his police officers have visited the settlement to bring humanitarian assistance. They were encouraged to do so by the Marines of PTT-4, led by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Edward Hayes.
“We’re teaching the Iraqi Police how to be policemen based on the concept of community-based policing in the U.S.,” explained Hayes, 41, a native of Miami, Fla. “This builds trust and confidence in the authorities. When we first got here, we noticed that a lot of the villagers would talk to us instead of the IPs to solve their problems. We want to make it a natural reaction for the people to go to their own police.”
Hayes took a hiatus from his duty as band officer for the 3rd Marine Air Wing Band, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., to deploy for his first time to Iraq. In the spirit of “every Marine is a rifleman first,” he went through several months of grueling training at Camp Pendleton, Calif. to prepare him and his team for this vital mission of empowering the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain security and enable the country to transition to a stable democracy.
To reinforce this idea of putting Iraqis in the lead, the Marines transferred all the goods to be distributed into an Iraqi Police truck at the Waleed Police Station prior to setting out for their destination, some 20 miles away.
When the Marines of 2nd Bn., 25th Marines and PTT-4 arrived at Walej with the Iraqi Police, Hayes handed the reins to Malik, who instructed the local tribal sheik to arrange for individual families to come to the distribution point one at a time. He did this to ensure that order was maintained and that each family received an equal share of the hundreds of pounds of clothing, food, sunglasses, school supplies and toys the Marines had brought.
“This is exactly what we wanted to see,” said Hayes. “(The Iraqis are) taking the lead. They came up with the plan and ran with it. We’re just sitting back and letting them do their job as policemen.”
The donated items were sent to the Marines of the battalion in November and December by friends, family and grass-roots organizations back in the States that wanted to show their support for the troops, who are working diligently to transfer responsibility for security and governance over to Iraqi control.
Some of the toys and school supplies were sent by Project Prayer Flag, a non-profit group that originally sent small American flags with inspirational messages for troops overseas.. Today, they pack and send boxes full of food and customized gear based on unit requests.
The other goods collected by the battalion and distributed in Walej came from Rena S. Costello, 41, a home and career skills teacher at East Islip Middle School in Long Island, N.Y., and her students, who coordinated the collection and mailing of more than 60 pair of shoes and sandals, as well as band aids and soccer balls. Costello and her students adopted Weapons Company, 2nd Bn., 25th Marines, because the company is also based on Long Island, N.Y.
Costello coordinated with Gunnery Sgt. John Lovett, 39, a Marine from Massapequa Park, N.Y., who is currently serving commander of Mobile Assault Platoon 3, Weapons Co.
“The folks back at home have been great,” said Lovett, who is on his second tour in Iraq as a reservist. “The support has been at extremely high levels and has been consistent throughout the entire tour. It is really awesome to see that Americans at home can maintain the operation tempo that the Marines do.”
Lovett also understood the vital importance of empowering the Iraqi Police, and welcomed this opportunity to conduct this joint operation with PTT-4.
“It’s important to show the collaboration continuing between the IPs and Coalition Forces as long as we are here,” said Lovett. “It lends to their legitimacy, but with them taking point, it puts an Iraqi face of the solution and support for the community. You see community based policing all the time in the U.S., but it is a new concept here.”
Not only did the event benefit the Iraqi Police and the citizens of Walej, but it also gave the Marines a great sense of fulfillment in providing humanitarian aid to some of the poorest people in the country.
“I think we helped alleviate some misery they suffer from the cold. We afforded them a great degree of comfort, something we as Americans take for granted,” said Sgt. Christopher Bambury, 30, a vehicle commander with MAP-3 and a New York City firefighter from Breezy Point, N.Y.
“It was awesome,” said Bambury, who assisted children in finding the correct sizes for shoes, sweaters and other garments. “It felt great to give them tangible items they really need that will make their lives more comfortable this winter.”
As the day came to a close and the Marines parted ways with the Iraqi Police, Hayes expressed his pride and satisfaction in seeing months of hard work come to fruition.
“We realize it’s no longer about us; it’s about setting (the Iraqis) up for success,” said Hayes. “We worked with them to change from military-style patrols to the police officer walking the beat, and having them interact with the local populace, like today. As we could see, it went a long way with building their wasta (an Iraqi term which means respect, authority and legitimacy) in their community.”